James A. Bill (1817-1900) of Lyme, Connecticut, served in the Connecticut state senate in 1852 and 1853 and in the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1849 and 1867. He also happened to be a rare pro-slavery Northerner in the years before and during the Civil War. This fact is reflected in the names of the last three children:
Kansas Nebraska (born in July, 1855)
Lecompton Constitution (b. October, 1857)
Jefferson Davis (b. February, 1862)
Kansas Nebraska Bill was named after the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, but also allowed the territories to decide for themselves whether or not they would permit slavery (the “popular sovereignty” principle).
Lecompton Constitution Bill was named after the Lecompton Constitution (1857), a proposed pro-slavery constitution for the state of Kansas that was defeated early the next year.
And Jefferson Davis Bill was, of course, named after Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy throughout the Civil War.
Their older brother, Lodowick, inherited his interesting first name from James’s father. The name Lodowick — like Louis, Ludwig, and Luigi — can be traced back to the Germanic name Chlodovech, which consists of the elements hlud, meaning “famous, loud” and wig, meaning “war, battle.”
We looked at the top baby name rises last month, so this month let’s look at the opposite: the top drops. That is, the baby names that decreased the most in usage, percentage-wise, from one year to the next in the Social Security Administration’s data.
Here’s the format: girl names are on the left, boy names are on the right, and the percentages represent single-year slides in usage. (For example, from 1880 to 1881, usage of the girl name Clementine dropped 68% and usage of the boy name Neil dropped 76%.)
The SSA data isn’t perfect, but it does become more accurate in the late 1930s, because “many people born before 1937 never applied for a Social Security card, so their names are not included in our data” (SSA). Now, back to the list…
I’ve already written about some of the names above (click the links to see the posts) and I plan to write about a few of the others. In the meanwhile, though, feel free to beat me to it — leave a comment and let us know why you think any of these names saw dropped in usage when they did.
Apple, Chlorophyll, Icarus, Kinky, Melon, Omicron, Smacker, Swallow, Winsome, Yoyo…the English names chosen by (or assigned to) native Chinese speakers are often not so great.
And, in many cases, they’re later regretted. Here’s what a Hong Kong business student Fragile Chan had to say about his English name:
“I started using ‘Fragile’ when I was 14,” he says. “I first encountered the word in my English class and I chose it as my name because I liked how it’s pronounced.”
Chan says his name makes it easy for others to remember him and it’s an easy conversation-starter when he meets new people. But in his experience, having an uncommon name isn’t always pleasant.
“I am tired of explaining my name to others when I need to introduce myself. Some people even mock me for having a ‘fragile heart’,” he says. Now Chan has decided to change his name to Nathan. “I would like to be less weird in formal situations,” he says.
One U.S. entrepreneur has created a site called Best English Name, which helps Chinese students choose more appropriate English names. Site-suggested names include “Davis, Max, Eli, and Riley” for males and “Elody, Ava, Jolie, and Ellie” for females. These are a lot better than Kinky and Melon, and style-wise they’re fairly appropriate for current teenagers.
But I think the best advice out there comes from Philip Guo’s blog post How to choose an English name, because it can be applied to any age group.
His main recommendation? Go to the SSA’s website, find the top 100 names for your birth year, and choose one from the list for your gender. He says:
You must choose your name from one of these 100 names. Even if you randomly choose a name (for your gender, of course), then congratulations, I guarantee that you have chosen a better name than most of your friends who tried to be creative!
So a 15-year-old student (b. 2001) can choose from names like:
Isabel, Katie, Mia, Sophia, Zoe
Aidan, Chase, Isaiah, Jack, Noah
But a 40-year-old business-person (b. 1976) can choose from names that might be a better fit for his/her generation, such as:
Amy, Dana, Monica, Tina, Wendy
Chad, Dennis, Peter, Shane, Tony
Best of all, every top 100 list includes names appropriate for people of various ages. For example, these names were on both the 1976 and the 2001 lists:
Anna, Elizabeth, Michelle, Natalie, Sarah
Adam, David, John, Nathan, Victor
Guo’s other recommendations include ignoring name definitions entirely and sticking to the exact version of the name found in the top 100. He also suggests choosing a name that sounds somewhat like one’s birth name, e.g., the English name Shawn would work well for a Chinese man named Sheng.
Do you have any other good advice for people (Chinese people in particular) seeking English names?
The registrar of Providence, Rhode Island, published a series of documents listing all “of the names of persons deceased, born and married in the city of Providence” during years 1866, 1867 and 1868. The series may have been longer, but these are the only documents I could find online.
I’ve finally finished creating a set of rankings using one of the documents — 1867. But before we get to the rankings, here are some stats:
1,547 babies were born in Providence in 1867, going by the number of babies listed in the document itself. According to the document’s introduction, though, the number is 1,625. Not sure what to make of this discrepancy.
1,431 of these babies (713 girls and 718 boys) had names that were registered with the government at the time of publication. The other 116 babies got blank spaces. Either their names hadn’t been registered yet, or they hadn’t been named yet, or perhaps they died young and never received a name.
254 unique names (141 girl names and 113 boy names) were shared among these 1,431 babies.
And now, on to the names…
A quick look at the top 5 girl names and boy names in Providence in 1867:
Top Baby Girl Names
Top Baby Boy Names
Notice how the #1 name, Mary, was bestowed three times as often as the #2 name, Catherine.
Twenty-one sets of twins and two sets of triplets were born in Providence in 1867. (All of these names were accounted for above — I just thought it’d be fun to check out the sibsets.)
Abraham & George
Charles & George
Charles & John
Daniel & David
Dunlap & Frank
Eugene & Timothy
George & John
George & William
James & John
John & Martin
Albert & Harriet
Ashel & Ida
George & Grace
James & Mary
Maurice & Ann
Annie & Fannie
Annie & Mary
Ann & Ellen
Jennie & Minnie
Margaret & Martha
(blank) & (blank)
Carl, (blank) & (blank)
James, Alexander & Sarah
I’ll post Providence’s 1866 and 1868 rankings as soon I get them done. Until then, here are two older posts featuring uniquely named Rhode Islanders: Aldaberontophoscophornia (b. 1812) and Idawalley (b. 1842).
Today is not just the anniversary of the first manned space flight. It’s also the anniversary of the start of the Civil War. (They were exactly 100 years apart, in fact.)
I’ve seen military names catch on as baby names during times of war, so I was curious to know if this had happened during the Civil War. The problem? The war ended in 1865, so all that easy-to-access SSA data, which only dates back to 1880, wouldn’t be of any help.
But census data would work. And economist Douglas Galbi has made things easy for me: he’s used 19th-century census data to come up with lists of popular given names, sorted by decade of birth. Talk about convenient.
Using only data from the 1880 census, I looked up the following Civil War-related names:
Abraham & Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln was the leader of the Union
Jefferson & Davis – Jefferson Davis was the leader of the Confederacy
Ulysses & Grant – Ulysses S Grant commanded the Union Army at the end of the war
Robert & Lee – Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate Army at the end of the war
William & Sherman – William T. Sherman was a Union general
Elmer & Ellsworth – Elmer E. Ellsworth was an early Union casualty
Here’s what I found. An x indicates “fewer than ten.” Also, keep in mind that the number of births overall increased significantly from decade to decade — 20,862 the first decade, 36,188 the second, 48,000 the third and 64,041 the fourth.
So it seems as though the Civil War did indeed give certain names a boost.
I was most surprised by Elmer. Elmer E. Ellsworth, though not well-known nowadays, captured the nation’s attention in early days of the war. He was killed in mid-1861 while trying to confiscate a Confederate flag. Here’s how the NYT ended Ellsworth’s obituary:
He has been assassinated! His murder was fearfully and speedily revenged. He has lived a brief but an eventful, a public and an honorable life. His memory will be revered, his name respected, and long after the rebellion shall have become a matter of history, his death will be regarded as a martyrdom, and his name will be enrolled upon the list of our country’s patriots.
According to Wikipedia, Ellsworth’s death inspired thousands of men to enlist. His many namesakes include U.S. Commissioner of Education Elmer Ellsworth Brown (1861-1934), artist Elmer Ellsworth Garnsey (1862-1964), Minnesota legislator Elmer Ellsworth Adams (1861-1950), and pro baseball player Elmer Ellsworth “Mike” Smith (1868-1945).
Source: “Obituary; Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth.” New York Times 25 May 1861.
UPDATE, 6/15/15: Turns out that the data I used for this post isn’t so reliable after all. (See the comments here for specifics.)
So here are some new numbers — basically, search “hits” for these names on the 1880 Census (via FamilySearch) grouped by birth year. These aren’t perfect either, but I think they’re an improvement.
Let’s go backwards…
Elmer & Ellsworth:
And here are the year-by-year “hits” on Elmer specifically:
1856: 236 babies named Elmer
1857: 259 babies named Elmer
1858: 325 babies named Elmer
1859: 388 babies named Elmer
1860: 605 babies named Elmer
1861: 2,533 babies named Elmer
1862: 3,964 babies named Elmer
1863: 2,665 babies named Elmer
1864: 2,097 babies named Elmer
1865: 1,617 babies named Elmer
William & Sherman:
Robert & Lee:
Ulysses & Grant:
Jefferson & Davis:
Abraham & Lincoln:
If anyone has any tips on using the U.S. census to get relatively accurate data on first names (only), I’m all ears!